Easter: Breaking Through a Contraining System

He broke out.  He got up.  In faith Christians proclaim that Jesus rose from the grave:  Alleluia!  Christ is Risen.  What follows are hymns of praise, expressions of joy, a profusion of flowers – all offered to gatherings that are double the size of a normal Sunday service.   Beyond the sectarian symbols there are eggs and bunnies and, depending where one lives, the emergence of daffodils and hyacinths.   And, perhaps most important of all for some of us, the return of major league baseball.

All signs of new life.  Returning life.  The rekindling of warmth and hope after the dreariness of winter.

He broke out.   For some, it is a spiritual stretch to claim that Jesus broke out of his tomb into new life.  But in some ways Easter is an extension of what Jesus had been doing for the previous three years.  He continually broke through systems.  The system shunned prostitutes; Jesus welcomed them in.  The system insisted that women not be heard; he repeatedly listened and honored them.  The system disowned Judean agents of Rome; he brought a tax collector into his inner circle.  The system demonstrated in various ways that people with infirmities should be ignored or forgotten; Jesus healed them.  The system then – as now, declared that death is the end of life.  The Resurrection of Jesus is a witness, in faith, that love is stronger than death. 

We need systems.  Systems help regulate our lives, especially as we live in proximity to one another.  Systems keep us organized.  But when systems get out of whack, which Jesus demonstrated over and over again, our minds and hearts can be held hostage by their power.

When I was ordained nearly forty-years ago, the Episcopal Church was embroiled in a systems battle, largely centered around worship in the church.  Should the altar remain against the wall, or be brought out so the priest can face the people?  Can women stand behind or in front of the altar as priests?  What prayers can be said at the altar – from the new or old prayer book?  Does baptism enable one to receive communion from the altar, or do young people have to wait until they are confirmed?  As a newly ordained person, I felt spiritually strangled by these endless systems issues, to the degree that at times I lost sight of what was on the altar:  symbols of new life which I was called upon to bless.

There seems to be a consistent core of Americans who feel similarly strangled by the system of government.  Egged on by various forces and voices, they feel that government is corrupt, that the system is rigged, that the government is taking away freedom.  A hard shell of distrust begins to cover over everything; and a more entrenched system of anger and bitterness gets created, which is nearly impossible to break through. 

The government system, the church system, the family system, the school system, any system – are inevitably flawed.  Some become corrupt, as is the case with Russia (as is the case with some other countries); but most systems become embodiments of the fragility and foibles of human beings who create them.  Systems encourage people to become blind to the prejudice and bias that inevitably infect them.  Jesus knew that.  He addressed that.  He lost his life challenging the flawed religious and political system.

Jesus broke through the system and opened a pathway to new life.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus’ witness suggests that systems need to be reformed so that their reach and regulation includes and is fair to everyone; not just some, but everyone.  Whether or not one embraces the Resurrection, Easter invites us to engage our imagination and creativity, each of which encourages us to look into the tombs of our lives and see new life breaking out. Easter can soften our hardened hearts and help us rediscover hope.   Imagination and creativity are enormous gifts, and they end up being truncated, if not imperiled, in systems that hold minds and hearts hostage.

Like all religious institutions, the Episcopal Church continues to grapple with various issues regarding worship.  There are echoes from the liturgical battles of the 1980s, but they feel less divisive these days.  I would like to think that the church has learned that any organization — be it ecclesiastical, governmental, educational, or political– the system becomes flawed, and members can feel constrained, if not strangled, by the system’s power.   Jesus broke through – with the power of imagination, creativity,  and love –and with the dramatic demonstration that new life is always possible. 

Alleluia.  Christ is risen.


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